As recently as October 2012, the New York Yankees still had a hold of their traditional top spot in the American League East and another playoff berth. However, an off-season riddled with injuries to their top talent and a new focus on holding to a budget has the Pinstripes on the edge of a precipitous fall into the lower tiers of the division race. The surprise of 2012, the Baltimore Orioles, used clutch performances in close games to defy all the predictions and qualify for an AL Wild Card spot. It’ll take another season of the right mix of veteran savvy and young, high-end talent to get the O’s back to the postseason.
The O’s probably won’t be challenged for the Wild Card by that other AL East powerhouse you may be thinking of. No, while the new-look Boston Red Sox are likely to rebound from one of their worst seasons in recent memory, the Sox are not likely to contend this season after firing one-and-done manager Bobby Valentine. No, the challenge will likely be strongest from the Tampa Bay Rays, healthier in 2013 and reloaded with young, affordable talent after a blockbuster trade with the Kansas City Royals. The other contender will likely be the fresh-faced Toronto Blue Jays, who spent a lot of money and turned over much of their roster through a huge trade with Miami and another with the Mets for Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. But can Toronto really push for the playoffs with so many new parts? Tampa has the most post-season experience of the three top teams. Even if attendance stays low for another season at Tropicana Field, Evan Longoria, David Price and the rest of the Rays are likely to have plenty of eyes on them all season and into the playoffs.